On April 16, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that a large number of Ukrainian troops had surrendered in the city of Mariupol as of April 13.
“1,464 Ukrainian servicemen laid down their arms and surrendered. They are not subjected to violence or psychological pressure,” the ministry claimed.
Ukraine contests the claim, which is only supported by sketchy video evidence. Meantime, former Ukrainian POWs say they were mistreated and beaten while in Russian captivity.
The Russian ministry said 1,209 of the POWs who purportedly surrendered in Mariupol were from Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade. The group included 162 officers who surrendered sometime between April 12-13, Reuters reported.
One of the first videos showing these POWs was posted on April 12 by Alexander Sladkov, a war reporter for Russia’s state-owned Channel 1 television. The video is dark and seems to be shot at night, so it is impossible to count the exact number of POWs in it, but they appear to number about 100 at most.
In the video, Sladkov asks the officers among the Ukrainian POWs to raise their hands. Only four hands go up.
On April 13, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), the self-declared Russia-backed separatist government in the province, said in a video posted on Telegram that Russian forces had halted the 36th Marine Brigade’s attempt to break through a blockade of Mariupol.
The video claimed that most of the Ukrainian marines were killed, while 42 others surrendered and the remaining troops retreated. It claimed to show Ukrainian marines surrendering to the Russians.
“There is still no evidence of the 1,000 POWs, and this video shows the same 42 from the old videos” the Conflict Zone monitoring channel reported in reviewing the DNR’s claims on Telegram. Conflict Zone, one of the most cited Telegram media outlets outside of Russia, aggregates data and news published worldwide and translates it into Russian.
The Telegram channels of Russia’s Interior Ministry and other agencies also posted videos purportedly substantiating the capture of 1,464 Ukrainian troops in Mariupol.
An April 18 video shows men standing with hands behind their backs inside of what looks like a prison yard. There are 20 rows of four men in each, for a total of 80, all wearing civilian clothes, and none in Ukrainian marine or other Ukrainian military uniforms.
Another April 18 Russian Interior Ministry video shows a larger number of purported Ukrainian POWs, approximately 400. In this group, some are in civilian clothes, while others are wearing military-style khaki pants or coats. Among the shoes visible in the first two rows are very few military boots; most are wearing either sports or casual walking shoes. This Russian Interior Ministry video shows the same men seen in the video that Sladkov posted on April 12.
Earlier, on April 4, Russia’s Defense Ministry said 267 troops from Ukraine’s 503rd Marine Brigade surrendered in Mariupol. But a video posted by the Russian military channel Military Info Live states: “Our first prisoners, more than a 100.”
Ukraine says Russia captured about 700 Ukrainian personnel on all fronts between February 24 and April 16.
The Russian Defense Ministry’s claim that the Ukrainian POWs “are not subjected to violence or psychological pressure” is questionable based on reports to the United Nations and human rights monitors.
Late last month, the United Nations called for reports of alleged prisoner abuse by both Russia and Ukraine to be investigated.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said: “Videos posted online early on March 27, 2022, appear to show Ukrainian forces abusing captured Russian fighters or combatants, who have prisoner of war status, including shooting three of them in the leg.”
While Ukrainian officials have said they would follow up on that report and others, Russia has consistently denied any allegations of mistreating prisoners. News reports and social media videos have surfaced that contradict those denials.
Two Ukrainian Red Cross volunteers who spent three weeks in the Russian captivity said they were beaten and “held with around 40 other captives on the concrete floor of a nearby factory, their hands bound,” Reuters reported.
Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman, Lyudmyla Denisova, said on April 4 that Russian treatment of the Ukrainian POWs constituted a violation of the Geneva Conventions on humane treatment of prisoners, as they “had been kept in basements, denied food and made to take off their uniforms.”
In a video the Ukrainian security service posted on Facebook on April 15, a Russian soldier in an intercepted phone call tells a friend that "when the POWs were brought in, we've got to taunt them, cut some fingers, even hands and feet ..." The recording has not been independently verified.
Russian troops have shared videos on social media showing them bragging about intimidating and humiliating Ukrainian POWs.
These examples appear to show Ukrainian POWs put on camera to state that:
Article 17 of the Geneva Conventions on treatment of POWs states that: "No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind."
Mariupol is a port city on the Sea of Azov and the linchpin for Russia’s completion of a “land bridge” to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Russian troops have besieged the city for nearly two months.